Zimbabweans prayed for peace on Sunday ahead of a national election widely expected to be a tense affair amid a crackdown on dissent and fears of vote rigging.
Dozens of worshippers gathered for mass at a cream-coloured church facing a dusty street lined with market stalls in Harare’s oldest township of Mbare.
“We are praying for a peaceful environment,” says the Apostolic Faith Mission pastor Edson Mukaro, a robust man sporting a red tie and grey waistcoat.
“We are just encouraging our people to be objective, peaceful, and to do everything in order.”
Zimbabwe has a long history of disputed elections marred by violence, and some fear a repeat of 2018, when the army opened fire on opposition protesters, killing six people.
Politics and religion are often intertwined in the southern African country, where evangelical and apostolical churches are dominant and some faith leaders have in the past sided with the ruling ZANU-PF party, in power since independence in 1980.
Nelson Chamisa, the 45-year-old main challenger to President Emmerson Mnangagwa, is an apostolic pastor, but at a church unrelated to Mukaro’s.
The “Gospel Fire Cathedral”, with its yellow and glass window panes and a wooden ceiling, only deals with spiritual matters, not political ones, says Mukaro.
“We are non-partisan,” he says.
Chamisa’s Citizens Coalition for Change is normally stronger in urban areas, but Mbare usually leans towards ZANU-PF.
Merchants wanting to set up shop in its thriving market have to cosy up to the ruling party, some locals claim.
Inside the church, a choir of men and women in blue dresses with a red flower pinned on their chest sings religious anthems from behind the altar.
A toddler in blue jeans at the back jumps and claps his hands at the rhythm of gospel music and a young mother with a baby strapped on her back joins the prayers.
“We will not rest until poverty stops,” chants the pastor, as a young man at the drums heightens the preaching tempo and banknotes flow from faithful pockets into grey plastic donation baskets.
More than 40 percent of Zimbabweans were extremely destitute in 2022, according to official statistics. Good jobs are hard to come by.
“We need more employment, that’s what we need, employment,” says Anna Mukudo, a churchgoer and local vendor wearing a bright red and yellow dress.
The vote, she hopes, will bring change and improvement.
“I don’t know who is going to win the elections, but God knows,” she says.